Basu Chatterjee – Famous Bollywood filmmaker of 1970s who wove life of middle-class on screen

Basu Chatterjee (1930 – 2020) was a very famous and acclaimed filmmaker of Bollywood and a great storyteller of 1970s and 1980s. When it comes to weave realistic stories with fun-filled moments and incidents depicting the middle class of Indian society, no other Indian filmmaker has achieved the cult status which Basu received through a handful of movies he made. A pioneer of middle class cinema, his movies are regarded as landmark and classic, deprived of huge stars and made in low budget. Chhoti Si Baat, Chitchor, Rajnigandha, Piya Ka Ghar, Khatta Meetha, Sara Akash, Shaukeen, Chameli Ki Shaadi, Swami, Baton Baton Mein, Priyatama and Man Pasand belong to this category.

His movies belong to a separate class, and definitely own repeat value. His movies dealing with problems of middle class are extremely popular and are famous for brilliant camera work. Many of such themes have never been explored on big screen before, though they are simple and clear. He has also directed a few Bengali films and Doordarshan series towards the end of his career. He was a recipient of 6 Filmfare awards in screenplay and direction categories combined. In 1992 his movie, Durga won National Film Award for Best Film on Family Welfare. Actors Amol Palekar, Moushmi Chatterjee, Rakesh Roshan, Tina Munim and Vidya Sinha regularly featured in many of his memorable Hindi movies.

Basu Chatterjee started his career as an illustrator and cartoonist with the weekly tabloid Blitz

Basu Chatterjee (left) and Basu Bhattacharya (right) on the film sets of Teesri Kasam

Basu Chatterjee was born in Ajmer of present-day Rajasthan in British India. He belonged to a Bengali family and was brought up in Mathura. He started his career in Mumbai as an illustrator and cartoonist, and worked under Russi Karanjia for Blitz weekly. He was associated with this field for nearly two decades before he switched to filmmaking. After working 18 years as an illustrator and cartoonist, he assisted Basu Bhattacharya for Raj Kapoor – Waheeda Rahman starrer, Teesri Kasam in 1966. He also worked as an assistant for the movie Saraswatichandra starring Nutan.

He turned a full-fledged film director with Sara Akash in 1969

In 1969 he scripted directed the critically acclaimed movie, Sara Akash with less-known actors, Rakesh Pandey, Madhu Chakravarty and Nandita Thakur, and bagged his first Filmfare award for best screenplay. He also produced the movie. From there on it took only a short period for Basu da to establish as one of the popular filmmakers of 1970s. His heartfelt stories got connected with audience easily and shared a special bond, and he delivered hits one after another.

In fact he became the torchbearer of light-hearted, middle class family dramas, with detailed description of lead and supporting cast. He stayed away from masala action flicks, and screenplay was the real master of most of his works. He made several low-budget rom-coms of the decades of 1970s and 1980s with films like Rajnigandha and Baaton Baaton Mein.

His association with Amol Palekar is famous

Gori Tera Gaon from Chitchor gave National award to Yesudas

He gave the first break to Amol Palekar through Rajnigandha, and also played a magnificent role in establishing his career in Bollywood. Most of his movies had humour in sublime, and were also highly entertainers. Till mid-1980s, he remained at his career peak, and his career witnessed a downfall after that. Gudgudee (1997) was his last Bollywood movie as a director before he took a break from Hindi films. The movie gave Pratibha Sinha, daughter of Mala Sinha her first lead role in Hindi cinema. But the movie flopped.

He shifted his work to Bengali cinema and also directed a few Doordarshan series later. Hothat Brishti, Hochcheta Ki and Hothat Shei Din are some of his Bengali movies which he made in the 1990s. He directed one Hindi film Kuch Khatta Kuch Meetha in 2007, which went unnoticed. After that he directed two Bengali films – Hochheta Ki (2008) and Trishanku (2011), which also flopped. He retired from film industry after that and led a peaceful life. He died of age related ailments on 4 June 2020, when the whole nation was in the grip of Corona epidemic. His veteran filmmaker has served as a jury member of several film festivals during his lifetime.

Basu Chatterjee – Some interesting and less-known facts

1. He was a recipient of 6 Filmfare awards – 3 Screenplays, 2 Critics’ Awards for Best Movie and one best director award. He was honoured with IIFA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

2. He won Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie twice for the movies, Jeena Yahan in 1980 and Rajnigandha in 1975. Rajnigandha also won Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie.

3. He won Filmfare Best Screenplay Award thrice – for his debut movie, Sara Akash, Kamla Ki Maut and Chhoti Si Baat.

4. He won Filmfare Best Director Award for a single movie, Swamy starring Shabana Azmi.

5. He worked with Amol Palekar in maximum movies and gave him the first break to Bollywood through Rajnigandha (1974). He also offered next two projects of Palekar’s career. With the success of three films in a row right from debut, the actor owns a unique credit of ‘Debut Silver Jubilee Hat-trick’. Also the director celebrated three silver jubilee hits.

6. He also gave first break to Vidya Sinha who later worked with him in many movies. Though she was a model-turned actress, he gave next-door girl image to actress, and she later got type casted for similar roles. Yet audience loved her most in this kind of roles. 

7. Yesudas – the winner of highest number of National film awards in best playback singer category won his single award in Hindi for the evergreen song, Gori Tera Gaon Bada Pyara from Chitchor directed by Basu da. In fact Yesudas became the ghost voice of Palekar in many of Chatterjee movies.

8. When new wave cinema hit Bollywood in late 1960s, especially 1969 with the film, Bhuvan Shome, Basu da also joined the league of filmmakers with his debut film, Sara Akash.

9. His movie Manzil starring Amitabh Bachchan and Moushmi Chatterjee has one of the finest monsoon songs filmed in Bollywood – Rhim Jhim Gire Saawan.

manzil songs

Rhim Jhim Gire Saawan (female version) composed by R. D. Burman

10. His debut movie, Sara Akash also marked the debut of cinematographer K. K. Mahajan, who was till then associated with documentaries. The artist is best known for his work in Parallel Cinema.

11. He helmed popular TV serials like Byomkesh Bakshi and Rajani.

12. He had a habit of using zoom lens, and hence nicknamed, ‘Zoom Chatterjee’.

13. Along writing scripts he also wrote dialogues for a few of his films.

14. He passed away a few months after he celebrated his golden jubilee in Hindi cinema as a film director.

15. His daughter Rupali Guha has directed a few Bengali movies such as Amavas and Porichoi, and a series of Bengali TV shows.

16. He started his film journey as an assistant under Basu Bhattacharya, 4 years younger to him (for the movie, Teesri Kasam). It was the first movie for Bhattacharya as a director.

Top Bollywood songs of Basu Chatterjee movies

Basu da’s movies own some of the finest Bollywood songs of 1970s and 1980s, and here I listed a few of them. Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Asha Bhosle and K. J. Yesudas sang many of the popular songs of his movies. Surprisingly he rarely worked with singing legend, Mohammed Rafi. Yeh Zulf Kaisi Hai from Piya Ka Ghar is one such rare gem.

vidya sinha in rajnigandha

Title song of Rajnigandha featuring Vidya Sinha

  1. Ye Jeevan Hai from Piya Ka Ghar
  2. Gori Tera Gaon Bada Pyara from Chitchor
  3. Jab Deep Jale Aana from Chitchor
  4. Aaj Se Pehle Aaj Se Zyada from Chitchor
  5. Tu Jo Mere Sur Me, Sur Milale from Chitchor
  6. Tumhein Dekhti Hoon from Tumhare Liye
  7. Kai Baar Yuheen Dekha Hai from Rajnigandha
  8. Rajnigandha Phool Tumhaare from Rajnigandha
  9. Jaaneman Jaaneman Tere Do Nayan from Choti Se Baat              
  10. Na Jaane Kyon Hota Hai Yeh Zindagi Ke Saath from Choti Se Baat  
  11. Suniye Kahiye from Baton Baton Mein
  12. Na Bole Tum, Na Maine Kuch Kaha from Baton Baton Mein
  13. Uthe Sabke Kadam from Baton Baton Mein
  14. Kahan Tak Yeh Man Ko from Baton Baton Mein
  15. Koi Roko Na from Priyatama
  16. Rhim Jhim Gire Saawan from Mausam
  17. Ka Karoon Sajni from Swami
  18. Pal Bhar Mein Yeh Kya Ho Gaya from Swami
  19. Yaadon Mein Woh from Swami
  20. Sa Re Ga Ma Pa from Man Pasand
  21. Thoda Hai Thode Ki Zaroorat Hai from Khatta Meetta
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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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